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Venezuela investigates alleged July helicopter massacre of indigenous people

Amazon uncontacted tribe 2011 08 11Enlarge
Photo of the now-missing tribe. (Gleison Miranda/FUNAI/Survival International/Courtesy)

Venezuela is in the process of investigating the alleged July massacre of Amazonian indigenous people from a helicopter, reported Reuters today, in a disturbing incident that casts light on a history of clashes between native people and outsiders. 

The village of Irotatheri in Venezuala's Amazonas region (close to the Brazilian border), which contained 80 Yanomami people, was allegedly strafed by gunfire from a helicopter.

Tribal advocacy group Survival International says that only three survivors have thus far been located. Yanomami survivors claimed they saw "charred bodies and bones" at the site of the incident, according to SI. 

Read more from GlobalPost: Mexico: 64 indigenous dialects at 'high risk' of disappearing

Claims that the incident took place were presented Monday in Puerto Ayacucho, the capital of Amazonas state, says the Guardian. A local prosecutor said the number of victims or the veracity of the attack could not yet be confirmed. 

It's suspected that illegal miners, dubbed garimpeiros, are behind the incident, added the Guardian - a group that has been known to have conflict with indigenous peoples in the past. 

Read more: Yanomami Indians of Brazil

Why did reporting the deadly incident take so long? There are no roads in remote Amazonian jungles, and the natives who first came upon the scene of the massacre had to walk three days to the nearest settlement, says the Guardian. 

The Yanomami are among the largest and most well-known indigenous tribes in the Amazon, first coming to international recognition with the controversial anthropological text "Yanomamo: The Fierce People." 

There are also believed to be uncontacted Yanomami groups (called Moxateteu by the Yanomami themselves) who may be in danger from clashes with illegal gold miners, says Survival International. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/venezuela/120830/venezuela-investigates-alleged-july-helicopter-massa